Nothing could have prepared John Mooney for the chain of events that led him to Notre Dame.
Mooney, a power forward from Altamonte Springs, Fla., originally committed to Florida as a sophomore after then-head coach Billy Donovan offered a scholarship. Mooney didn’t anticipate much would change aside from formally signing with the Gators as a senior.
Donovan flipped that notion on its head by accepting the Oklahoma City Thunder head coach job, leaving the college game for professional basketball after 19 years in Gainesville.
“There was gray area, without a doubt,” said John’s father, Kevin. “But the kid who had the vision was Johnny. He looked at me one day and he said, ‘Dad, I committed to Billy Donovan and the University of Florida. We don’t know who’s coming in and all that. Do you think it’s wise to open up our recruiting?’ I thought about it for about 30 seconds and I was like, ‘You know what, that’s pretty sage thinking.’”
Mooney stepped back from his commitment and started to explore options, but that wouldn’t last too long.
Dozens of programs reached out to Lake Brantley High School head coach Mike Cuff, Mooney and his father. Cuff advised Mooney to narrow the list down to five programs and take official visits to each.
Mike Brey and Martin Ingelsby put in phone calls, visited the school and secured a visit for the first football weekend.
“I was his secretary for about a month,” Cuff said. “Answering a bunch of calls. I told him, I said, ‘Just schedule five visits, pick the ones you like and go from there.’ I had a feeling when he attended that Notre Dame-Texas game, this is gonna be interesting. We’ll see how this works out. Sure enough, we got a call from coach Brey on Sunday night and John committed to Notre Dame. The rest is history.”
Mooney thought the Irish would be a fit after watching them quite a bit last season on their way to the Elite 8 and a narrow loss to Kentucky. Getting to South Bend would be the confirmation Mooney needed.
“Right when coach Brey called I felt very excited,” John said. “Literally the first phone call he said he’d like to get me on a visit. We went from there, obviously. I took the visit and here we are today. That first phone call, I knew there could be something. Sure enough, there was.”
Mooney plans to formally sign with Notre Dame today, adding his skills as a forward to a recruiting class that includes four-star point guard Temple Gibbs and Canadian wing Nikola Djogo.
Gibbs is a well-known prospect having played the AAU circuit regularly through high school. Mooney, on the other hand, chose to skip out on travel basketball last summer, focusing instead on skill development back home.
He was also committed to Florida at the time and didn’t need to play in front of college coaches for exposure. Mooney instead stuck to individual sessions and high school team workouts, to which he often arrived first, Cuff said.
When the high school season begins next week the forward wants to show that choice was the right one.
“I took this summer off to really work on my game and become more efficient,” John said. “I definitely think I’ve done that. I think I’ve increased my shooting range and become a better shooter. I’ve gotten stronger and faster, definitely worked on my ball handling a lot. I’ve worked on a lot of things and I’m excited to showcase them this coming high school season.”
Mooney understands the test ahead as the Irish compete in the ACC, another selling point. But his goals are no less lofty. He already feels prepared from a physical perspective at 6-foot-9 and about 240 pounds.
“I definitely just want to help Notre Dame basketball win as much as possible — win ACC championships and national championships,” John said. “That’s my goal, first and foremost to be a team player and help Notre Dame win as many games as possible.
Last year at this time the Mooney family would have been talking about SEC titles and getting Florida back to a Final Four contender under Donovan. With Donovan now in the NBA, the connection is more just on television.
Father and son can’t help but reflect on how this all played out.
“It’s just been an unbelievable ride, particularly the last six months,” Kevin said. “But it’s awesome. That’s the best way I could frame it up. Everything worked out. The good Lord works in mysterious ways and it worked in our favor.”